REVIEW: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall 
“I’ll get out of here one of these days. In a box.”
Born George William, PFC “Jack” Hall served four years in the military during WWII, was a POW, and ultimately found his way back home. Unable to shake what he saw and did in war, the feeling to kill anyone who crossed him remained. So, when his youngest son hung himself after battling drug addiction since the age of fourteen, the chance for revenge was too much to ignore. Hall came across the dealer that hooked his son bragging about his occupational success and took it upon himself to ensure no one else’s children suffered the same fate as his. It earned him a life sentence at the age of sixty—in total 21 years behind bars with 12 permanently spent in the infirmary after a heart attack. These are his final moments.
Edgar Barens’ Oscar nominated documentary short Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall centers on inmate #801309, yet its true story is larger than just one man. Funded by private investors with prisoner assistance, Iowa State Penitentiary’s maximum-security establishment in Ft. Madison became one of the few prisons fitted with a Hospice program in 2005. Run by specially trained inmates, two of the infirmary cellblock’s rooms were re-designated for those on their deathbed without chance of recovery. Led by Herky (life sentence for murder) and his team of Glover (life sentence for murder) and Love (life sentence for kidnapping), the program makes it so no one has to die alone while also providing this trio the opportunity to be someone no one thought they could.
Shot with unfettered access—those squeamish about the sight of dead bodies no matter how peaceful be warned—we witness a love that transcends who these men were on the outside. It is a colorblind love that helps a hardened, segregationist drunk allow three burly black men to become his best friends and closest family. We see the care and dignity given by director of nursing Marilyn Sales, understand the power of human connection no matter your unforgiveable actions, and watch as a man takes his last breaths while someone sits at his bedside 24/7 despite resting in a place known for its isolation. You may say it’s undeserved or perhaps that a guy like Jack can receive a pass because he “cleaned the streets” so to speak, but you can’t make that call.
Prison Terminal is about mankind, compassion, and the ability to repent through action rather than words. Looking at Jack struggle to breathe with his other son Don Skinner by his side doesn’t conjure thoughts about killers or monsters—he’s simply a man again despite the government-sanctioned number replacing his name. The same goes for the eloquent grace of Herky as his deeds almost make you forget he committed his own crime of amoral horror too. Barens isn’t saying we should forgive them or free them; he’s simply showing us a poignant look at prisoners rallying around each other in a time of need much like we do in society. If you still believe they should die alone, well that says more about the hate in your heart than any irrefutable truth.
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall debuts on HBO, March 31st, 2014.